Meeting business needs through workforce planning
A Foreign & Commonwealth Office case study

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Page 2: Workforce planning

The staffing needs of an organisation change constantly. Without proper planning, an organisation may suffer from skills shortages. It may be unable to provide a good service because it does not have sufficient staff with the right experience.

Workforce planning involves estimating the present and future staffing requirements of the organisation. It needs to take into account that:

  • existing employees may retire, resign or get promoted
  • new technology may change working methods and require different skill sets
  • more staff (or staff with different skills) may be needed to fulfil new business or operational requirements.

The process helps the FCO to identify what skills it needs to deliver its strategic objectives. It helps it assess the skills available within the existing workforce and see where there might be gaps in the future.

The FCO, for example, faces a shortage of skills in IT, economics and some languages.

The planning process also enables the FCO to assess its staffing needs both in terms of roles and the geographical deployment of staff. The department needs 'generalists', such as administrative assistants, operational officers and team leaders. It also needs specialist staff, such as economists, legal advisers and research analysts.

FCO sites around the world are staffed by a mix of career diplomats, both specialists and generalists, and locally engaged employees.

Workforce planning

Workforce planning involves thinking ahead to fit individuals with the right skills into different parts of the organisation. It allows organisations to focus their recruitment activity. It provides a forecast of whether present and future needs can be met by existing staff. Where staff cannot be retrained or redeployed, organisations draw up job descriptions to start the recruitment process.

The FCO has to undertake this planning in the context of the current political and economic environment. In post-recession Britain, the public sector is faced with budgets cuts. Government departments are being asked to make efficiency savings. This may put a squeeze on recruitment.

Workforce planning can be a challenge. As an organisation with operations in countries across the world, the FCO has to ensure balanced workloads for employees both within the UK and overseas. It faces the challenge of rotating staff between different overseas postings.

Employment legislation

The FCO also needs to comply with employment legislation. This may mean having to change working practices. For example, employees now have a legal right to apply for flexible working.

Some people wish to do this when their personal circumstances change, such as when they have very young children. They can find it difficult to work a standard eight-hour day in normal office hours. So, for example, they may wish to work part-time or to organise their working day to fit with their domestic responsibilities. This involves employers adapting working patterns to suit individuals' needs. However, it does allow them to retain staff who might otherwise be forced to resign.

Foreign & Commonwealth Office | Meeting business needs through workforce planning